I really admire the way the narrator’s character comes through in such a clever way, carefully filigreed within the voice of the piece—but also, almost like an image revealed by negative space in visual arts. Can you talk a bit about the narrator and her character from the perspective of a feminist?
I thought about the women in journalism whose voices were influential to me growing up. Most of them were and are feminists, but they often had to be coy about it in order to maintain likability and their jobs while also speaking truth to power. I tried to imagine an alternate universe version of Nelly Bly or Oprah Winfrey and the way they would do this job. She had to be incisive and observant, yet gossipy and fun. I wanted her to tell us about the world she writes, from the politics of publishing to the fashions of the fabulous. I also wanted someone who could watch a father-son dynamic without projecting herself into it, and so our breathless correspondent was created.
I feel like there are a few major themes going on. One that sticks out for me is generational shifts in power and attitudes, and the irony of each generation being both innovative and completely the same as the prior generation. Is this drawn from specific experiences? How did this story start for you—what was the inspiration and how did it develop?
I’ve been thinking about the pendulum of history a lot lately; that process of revolution, backlash, correction, and overcorrection, and the way you can see it within a family as much as you can within a nation. This story began to develop for me when I was thinking about the relationship between science and magic, and how folks like to pretend they’re separate things. I have been especially vexed by the competing definitions of science fiction and fantasy (magical fiction) when they’re a messy intertwined bunch of tropes anyhow. So I realized I was seeing the same thing in generation and in genre: a pendulum or a seesaw where swung wildly the magic of light sabers and full immersion baptism and stem cell research and life at conception and a spaceship built by a wizard and a dragon brought to life by a mad scientist. In the end, it all seemed to come down to questions of taste and likes and preferences: the sand upon which we build our houses and try to make them stand. And that’s a lot to think about, so I had to tell it small. One family business, one reporter trying to crystallize their story.
The framing device (a journalistic article/bio piece) is fairly similar to an epistolary. I read in a prior interview that you love writing epistolary, and in fact you employ this style in your The Road to Nowhere series. What is it that appeals to you about this form; what are the advantages and challenges?
I fell in love with the epistolary format when I was at Berkeley, studying nineteenth-century literature. There was this insistence in early English novels on both immediacy and legitimacy, so there was always some conceit: This is a series of letters from someone who was there, or there were these mysterious documents I found in an old castle. The format provides the up-close-and-personal feel of first-person narration, while also giving the character in the narrator’s seat the time to reflect and the opportunity to tune their experience, to look for patterns and understand things better than they did in the moment. I am a diarist myself, dedicated for decades to recording my experiences and learning both by doing it and by occasionally looking back. It is an advantage in fiction because it allows for the writer to switch modes of writing within a piece, and most readers are consuming different modes from minute to minute now. Think about the way we enjoy media. We watch TV with a phone in our hands to look things up, we check Twitter when the news is slow, and text friends to ask if they are seeing what we’re seeing. The author also gets to assume a position of privilege and authority within the narrative by taking on the voice of a newspaper, a magazine, a voice on the radio. It’s challenging because one has to nail the voice and tone of that mode of writing, and believably impersonate it. It’s how writers do impressions, and the reader knows at once if you have not practiced in front of a mirror.
What is your favorite thing about this piece, which you want everyone to know?
My favorite thing about this piece was the freedom that such a magical and advanced world gave me to get into some weird stuff. Ghosts invited to a wedding! A million parallel universes where fine books are sold! Old, moneyed families of sorcerers and startup queens, living a multigenerational drama that would shame the Medicis. After a lot of writing about survivors in a dystopia eating possum, this story was screeching good fun to dream up.
What was the hardest or most challenging aspect of writing this story?
The hardest part was deciding the mechanism, cost, and rules of time travel. I almost always avoid it in my stories, but I had to have it here. So I spent a lot of time thinking about the boundaries and constraints of it, because I hate when it gets used as deus ex machina, or a clever way to have a character get seduced by his own mother.
For new fans who just met you through this story, what should they read next? Also, what are you working on now that readers can look forward to soon?
If you liked this story, I have to tell you that it is nothing whatsoever like my books! But my Road to Nowhere series is concluding this year with The Book of Etta in April, and the first installment won me the Dick award. Aside from that, I am working on a handful of things now, including a book about queer witches in Oakland and a story about my cursed hometown. Follow me on Twitter for more stories and news, and I have a short on Patreon every month for just a dollar. So there is more where this came from, but it comes in a lot of flavors.
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